Mortal Kombat: The long journey back to theaters

When “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation” hit theaters in 1997, it did something that parents groups and senators had failed to do: Brought the franchise to its knees. Mortal_kombat_logo3

The film was so horrendously bad that it made 1995’s “Mortal Kombat,” which only the most die-hard fans of the series truly embraced, look downright artistic. Production on a third sequel, sub-named “Devastation,” was shelved and New Line Cinema never looked back.

But a funny thing happened as the Internet exploded. Last year, director Kevin Tancharoen (“Fame”), a big fan of the video game fighting series, had an idea to lobby Warner Bros. for a new installment in the series. Calling in favors from friends and tapping friends of friends, he began working on a live action short, which he never planned to release publicly – well, certainly not as soon as the short actually did make it online.

“I am not the most technically savvy YouTube person,” says Tancharoen. “What came out wasn’t the final product in my mind. I wasn’t done yet. It was still in its rough phase, but I couldn’t send a 2GB file over email, so my friend said I could cerate a private page on YouTube and sent it to him to review. It turns out it wasn’t that private.”

Fans and gaming outlets quickly found the video – which has since racked up over 5 million views. As it went viral, though, Tancharoen had no idea.

“I looked on Twitter and saw MK was trending and thought ‘Oh god, did someone beat me to the punch?’,” he says.

When he realized it was his film, his fears doubled: certain rights hadn’t been secured – including with his cast.

“The actors could have quickly rebelled against me,” he says. “Thank God people liked it, because it could have gone really bad.”

The buzz surrounding that YouTube short led Warner to tap Tancharoen to direct nine live-action shorts to lead up to this year’s new installment of the game, which ultimately proved to be one of the most successful in the series.

Now Tancharoen is taking the franchise to cinemas – which is just what he had hoped to do when making that YouTube video.

“The bigger thing for me, of course, is I want to translate this to a feature,” he noted in a conversation earlier this year. “I would love to tell the stories that lead the character up to a certain point, then have them merge together in a big 3D movie.”

It was, in fact, Tancharoen’s short films that got Hollywood thinking about rebooting the franchise.

“The new game and the online shorts prompted us to consider a reboot of a brand we hadn’t been actively thinking about,” said New Line president Toby Emmerich.

The film will be written by Tancharoen’s partner on the shorts and will likely come out in conjunction with the next Mortal Kombat game. Still undetermined is whether the stars of the Web series – which include Michael Jai White and Jeri Ryan – will reprise their roles in the big budget version.

The remake has one thing going for it, though: Fan buzz. Tancharoen has proven himself to the “Mortal Kombat” core audience – a critical first step in reviving the franchise.